Goodman: Breaking Down My 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot

Max Goodman

Voting on who gets inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of the most distinguished honors a reporter covering Major League Baseball can have. At the very least, it's certainly something writers aspire to be a part of someday down the road -- I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a personal goal of mine...

In my first year on a full-time big-league beat, however, I've got a long way to go before my first HOF vote -- and that's okay! 

Let's just say, hypothetically, that the Baseball Writers' Association of America made an exception for a 22-year-old Northwestern graduate to take part in this revered baseball tradition. Then who would I place on my ballot? 

Every year, we all have our allegiances and opinions on who should be inducted -- as someone who grew up in New York City during Derek Jeter's prime, I assure you one decision on my ballot was a very easy one to make -- but this is the first time I've ever filled out a ballot as though I were voting for real. 

Let me tell you, it's tougher than it looks. The BBWAA's rules for election state that voting "shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Weighing all those factors -- with a maximum of 10 votes -- takes time, an obscene amount of open tabs on Google Chrome and more cups of coffee than you can count on two hands. 

Here's a tip: make sure you use pencil the first few times you start checking off names on your ballot. I guarantee, you'll make a change or two or -- you get the point. 

When it was all set and done, on my hypothetical ballot, I voted for eight players -- all eight deserving of an induction in their own way. Derek Jeter was a no-brainer and Larry Walker, in his final year of eligibility, got the nod right away. Jeff Kent, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, Todd Helton, Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling also made the cut. 

Yup, that's right. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, among other steroid users, are not selected on my ballot -- read through and I'll tell you my thought process in each decision I made.

Finally, with social media and countless publications producing content featuring their votes ahead of Tuesday's announcement, anyone can access the majority of ballots submitted by baseball's most (and in some cases, least) respected writers. You probably already have! There's even a tracker that gives us all an early indication of who will be in Cooperstown this July. 

That being said, my ballot is one of a kind -- through the eyes of someone who never had the chance to cover any of these legends during their careers. My choices were made based upon the legacies these individuals left on this great game, without witnessing their greatness from a press box, and who best fulfills the BBWAA's aforementioned rules of election.

Ready? Let's get to it.

Derek Jeter

If Derek Jeter isn't the Hall's second unanimous inductee, I'll be astonished. 

He checks all the boxes. Championships? Five of 'em. Individual accolades? Sure, no Most Valuable Player Award on his shelf but a Rookie of the Year Award in 1996, five Gold Glove Awards and five Silver Slugger Awards at shortstop should do the trick. Did I mention 14 All-Star Game appearances stretching from his age-24 season to when he was 40? 

A generational talent that played the game the right way? That's The Captain. 

Mariano Rivera was the best of all time at his position -- that's why he was the first to ever be voted in without dissent. Rivera's monumental accomplishment will also -- in my eyes -- take the stigma away from voting iconic players in unanimously. Someone like Mo just had to come around to be the first. Jeter can, and should, follow in his former teammate's footsteps.

Sure, you can argue Jeter wasn't the best shortstop of all time, but he's a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. To those arguing that he was overrated, check out these numbers:

First, Jeter sits sixth all-time in hits. Sixth! The only big leaguers in baseball history to compile more base knocks are Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker, in that order.

Among those who played shortstop, he had the most 200-hit seasons (8), the best career OPS-plus in more than 2,500 games played at the position (115 -- three more than Cal Ripken Jr.) and is tied for the most seasons with a .300 batting average or higher (12). Honus Wagner and Luke Appling also churned out 12 such seasons -- although they retired in 1917 and 1950 respectively.

Derek Jeter and his former teammates at monument park plaque reveal
Derek Jeter surrounded by former Yankees teammates, including Mariano Rivera, and his former skipper Joe Torre, during a pre-game ceremony with his monument park plaque (2017).Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, with votes going public nowadays, who would want to risk the backlash of leaving Jeter off their ballot? Knowing he's bound to be elected even if he loses one vote, it's feasible a writer could use Jeter's spot for someone else that they think is also deserving but needs a push in order to be elected. The adverse reaction to seeing who made that call, however, simply wouldn't be worth the statement.

Larry Walker

I understand why Walker hasn't been inducted yet after nine years on the ballot. He played a significant chunk of his big-league career in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in baseball history. Further, his inability to stay on the field is a valid criticism on his HOF résumé -- Walker played in more than 150 games just once in his 17-year career. 

In his final year of eligibility, however, it's time for writers to recognize his greatness through a new lens.

Walker's numbers at Coors Field are absolutely staggering. In his career in Denver's high altitude, the right fielder posted a batting average of .381 (!) and hit 154 of his 383 career home runs. And yet, even though Walker played for the Rockies for an entire decade, he didn't play as much in Colorado's hitters paradise as you may think. The right fielder appeared in 597 games (2,501 plate appearances) at Coors -- that's just 30 percent of his career (1,988 total games). 

Away from Coors Field, Walker's numbers are still tremendous. Take his NL MVP season in 1997 as proof --  he hit .346 in away games that season (.384 at home) and had a better slugging percentage (.733) and OPS (1.176) on the road (compared to .709 and 1.169 at Coors respectively). 

You can't fault him for producing at a high level in the venue where his team played -- and it's not like he was ineffectual for the rest of his career elsewhere. Walker has the eighth best WAR (72.7) among all right fielders -- that's better than Tony Gwynn (69.2), Dave Winfield (64.2) and Vladimir Guerrero (59.4), all Hall of Famers. 

It's time for Walker to join them.

Jeff Kent, Omar Vizquel and Billy Wagner

The argument for inducting players who are the best all-time at one facet of their position couldn't be more pertinent to Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner and Omar Vizquel's candidacies.

Kent, who bounced around on six teams in his 17-year career, was the most prolific power-hitting second baseman the game has ever seen. His 351 home runs at the position and nine seasons with north of 100 RBI are the most among all second baseman in baseball history -- that is until Robinson Cano likely passes him in a few years (Cano currently has 308 long balls while playing second base in his career). 

He won a Most Valuable Player Award in 2000 and held his own in the postseason -- hitting three homers in his one World Series appearance two years later. Like others on the ballot, Kent's defense was nothing to write home about, but his skills on offense at his position are momentous enough to look past a few errors along the way.

Speaking of defense, it's a rational assessment to call Omar Vizquel the best defensive shortstop of all time. 

The Venezuelan played more consistent and reliable seasons at one of the game's most demanding positions than any other shortstop. Sure, Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith has him beat in Gold Glove Awards (13 to Vizquel's 11), but Vizquel played in four decades (1989-2012) over the course of his 24 years in the big leagues. That's unprecedented longevity at a position that can be so taxing and take such a physical toll that individuals are forced to move elsewhere on the diamond late in their careers. It took until the last three years of Vizquel's career for him to play a majority of his innings in a single season at third base, rather than shortstop.

Further, Vizquel was winning Gold Glove Awards as late as his age-39 season -- he was playing in the field at the end of his career not as a way to honor a legend prior to his retirement but because he was still his team's best defensive option.

Vizquel's offensive numbers are not necessarily worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. His career slash line alone of .272/.336/.352 won't get him enshrined. That being said, his 2,877 hits ranks fifth among those who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. You could argue the only reason he has that many hits to begin with is because he's compiled so many opportunities at the plate over a lengthy career -- that's exactly right! And the only reason he lasted so long in the league is because of his world-class defense!

Let me put it this way -- he made 183 errors on 11,961 chances over 2,709 games at shortstop. If you're aspiring to make a living at that position, and you're not aiming to emulate Vizquel's consistency and dominance with his glove and arm, you're doing it wrong. 

To wrap up this group of three, closer Billy Wagner also got my vote for his utter dominance in one of his position's most important roles: keeping hitters off base.

When you look up Wagner's statistics, one number sticks out above the rest -- the left-hander's WHIP, over his 16-year career, is .998. 

That just so happens to be the lowest WHIP of any pitcher in the entire live-ball era. 

I'll give you a moment to let that sink in...

That means of all pitchers to toss more than Wagner's career 903 innings pitched, the southpaw is the best of all time at avoiding walks and hits. Not only better than Hall of Fame closers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, but any pitcher to fit that criteria. That's a pretty significant contribution for his team as a closer pitching in high leverage situations, right? 

Billy Wagner throws out first pitch
Wagner throwing out the first pitch before Game 2 of 2019 ALDS in Houston. The left-hander spent nine seasons with the Astros.Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

He may not have set the record for the most converted saves of all time -- if he did, he'd be unanimous and we wouldn't need to have this discussion at all -- but he's ranked sixth in baseball history with 422 saves. Not too shabby if you ask me.

For all three of these icons, it's pretty simple. They each made more than enough history at their respective positions, in a positive way, to deserve HOF recognition. It would be a disservice to keep Kent, Wagner and Vizquel out, with that in mind.

Scott Rolen and Todd Helton

When I saw the ballot for the first time, these two names jumped out at me. There's no question Scott Rolen and Todd Helton had tremendous careers, but I knew I had to dig a little deeper to see if I would inevitably give them a check or not. I went back and forth in my mind on these two, but eventually decided to pencil them both in on my ballot.

Let's start with Rolen, shall we?

Only 17 third basemen have ever been inducted -- the lowest-represented position in the Hall. Based on how many stars man the hot corner around Major League Baseball these days, that may come as a surprise.  

Rolen may only have 2,077 big-league hits but we need more talented third basemen in the Hall of Fame. For the bulk of Rolen's career -- in which he made seven All-Star Game appearances -- he was one of the best all-around third basemen in the game.

He may not have eclipsed the 3,000-hit plateau -- as did future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre -- or crushed as many home runs as Mike Schmidt, but here's something he did that neither of those legendary third baseman were able to do. 

From 1996 -- when he won NL Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia -- to 2004, Rolen maintained an OPS of at least .846 for eight straight seasons. He's the only third baseman to ever pull that off. Plus, his career WAR of 70.2 is higher than plenty of Hall of Famers -- that's just 2.2 behind Jeter and 2.5 behind Walker.

As for Helton, not only did he continually produce on both sides of the ball, but he did it in one uniform for close to two decades -- a momentous feat within itself. 

Helton is deserving of induction for reasons I've already spoken about: longevity and consistency. Over 17 seasons, Helton posted a career batting average of .316 -- I don't care what you say about analytics and devaluing a stat like batting average. That's elite.

Only 62 qualified players in baseball history have better career averages. That figure might not make you gasp, but when you look at the names behind Helton -- like Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and more -- it'll put it into perspective. Helton produced 12 seasons with an above-.300 average, even at the end of his career as a 37-year-old.  

Further, and this also applies to Walker's case but to a lesser extent, playing at Coors Field year after year takes a toll. Adjusting to drastically different altitudes when traveling to and from your home ballpark is a challenge, something countless players aren't cut out for. Helton played more than 144 games in 11 seasons, avoiding injury and rarely wavering from his proven reputation as one of the league's most dangerous hitters in the 2000s.

Curt Schilling

When deciding to vote for Curt Schilling, I'll admit I ignored one of the BBWAA's rules for election: character. 

If Curt Schilling never went on Twitter in the first place, it's possible he would have been elected years ago. But instead of dwelling on what Schilling has done and has said, I tried to focus on his historic career while toeing the rubber rather than typing on his phone. 

Andy Pettitte, among others, have Schilling beat when it comes to postseason wins and innings pitched. When the ball was in his hand, however, he was arguably the best starting pitcher ever in the postseason. 

Over 17 games started in the playoffs (133.1 innings pitched overall), the right-hander had an .846 win-loss percentage (fourth-best of all-time) and a 4.1 win probability added (second-best WPA ever in the postseason). His team won all five win-or-go-home contests that he started -- including the notorious bloody sock game at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS -- tossing at least seven frames in each (including two complete games).

Curt Schilling Celebrates Red Sox 2007 World Series Title
Schilling, a familiar foe for Yankees' fans, celebrating Boston's World Series title in 2007 with teammates (from left) Tim Wakefield, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis. The Red Sox championship in '07 was Schilling's third and final ring of his career (Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004).Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Schilling's dominance wasn't limited to the month of October either. He came in second in three different Cy Young Award races, made six All-Star Game appearances and tossed a total of 3,261 innings in his career (that equates to 221 per season under his 162-game average). 

He's slowly climbed up the leaderboard over the last few years on the ballot -- I think this could be the year Schilling gets the call. 

Stained by PEDs: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and more

By now you've noticed I didn't include Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens on my ballot.

Right before I began detailing my decisions, I explained my unique perspective on these candidates as a younger (hypothetical) voter. When it comes to legacies, Bonds and Clemens are integral components on one of baseball history's most controversial chapters. 

They broke records and compiled enough individual accolades to lose count. Bonds won seven MVP Awards, two batting titles, 12 Silver Sluggers, eight Gold Glove Awards and set the all-time record for home runs. Clemens captured seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles and even an MVP Award for good measure. 

Barry Bonds with Giancarlo Stanton in Miami
Barry Bonds during his brief stint as the Miami Marlins' hitting coach in 2016 alongside future Yankee, and fellow slugger, Giancarlo StantonSteve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Only a handful of players in Major League Baseball history have left such a lasting impact on this game. They've produced the epitome of Hall of Fame numbers.

But...

I just couldn't find it in me to support their Hall of Fame candidacy knowing what they did to take an illegal competitive advantage. I grappled with the fact that their contributions are crucial to baseball history -- and it's integral that their legacies live on as long as the sport is being played -- but to give them the same honor that others earned by playing the game the right way? I simply can't do it.

The same goes for Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and anyone else involved with performance enhancing drugs during their careers. I would love to include them, but their covert actions don't deserve the praise and everlasting respect that comes along with a plaque in Cooperstown. 

I can see them getting inducted eventually -- perhaps the final year of Bonds' and Clemens' eligibility will catalyze more leniency from other writers -- but if it were up to me, they would never be inducted. 

How ironic is it that we're discussing historic scandals when we've got more modern cheating schemes to worry about. For instance, will the Astros' sign-stealing scandal forever cast a shadow over Jose Altuve's future Hall of Fame résumé?

Maybe I'll have a vote by then. Stay tuned for my decision.

To keep up with all of Yankee Maven's coverage, click the "follow" button at the top righthand corner of this page. For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman

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